Returning Ronaldo leads Portugal to big win

EAST RUTHERFORD - Cristiano Ronaldo had a hand in a goal and hit a post on his return as Portugal concluded their World Cup preparations with a 5-1 romp over the Republic of Ireland on Tuesday.


The Real Madrid striker, who missed his country's previous two warm-up games because of thigh and knee injuries, was not at his brilliant best for long periods of a one-sided friendly in the United States. But coach Paulo Bento was just relieved to see his captain and talisman back after an injury layoff that had sparked fears that Ronaldo might not be fit for Brazil.


Ronaldo was substituted on 65 minutes, but it appeared to have been a planned change and there was no indication that he was suffering any ill effects from his injury problems. He was replaced by Real teammate Pepe, a key defender and another whose World Cup preparations have been badly hindered by injury. "Ronaldo played a good match, especially when considering that he has not played competitively for two weeks," said Bento.


"Players like him are important for any team, and that is the case with us too. It's good to have him back." Portugal, who was flying to Brazil immediately after the match, start their World Cup assault against Germany on June 16 in Group G the so-called "Group of Death" which also includes the USA and Ghana. Raul Meireles also returned to the side after injury, giving Bento a full squad to choose from for the first time in the build-up to Brazil.


"The players are all fit and we have no concerns," said Bento. "That's very positive." It took Ronaldo just 51 seconds to show what he can do, picking the ball up and powering towards goal, but his shot from outside the box was comfortable for Irish keeper David Forde. With their next attack, on three minutes, Portugal took the lead, as Silvestre Varela crossed from the right and striker Hugo Almeida rose unmarked to crash home a header.


Ronaldo's next contribution, on 10 minutes, was to slip awkwardly as he tried to turn, drawing gasps from the 46,000 crowd at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. But the 29-year-old, cheered every time he touched the ball, picked himself up off the turf no doubt to the relief of Bento and 10.5 million Portuguese. Ronaldo was inches away from grabbing a second on 19 minutes, but his direct free kick from 20 yards pinged off the inside of Forde's post.


A minute later it was 2-0, as a Fabio Coentrao cross was deflected off the Irish boot of Richard Keough, the ball looping over Forde and beyond his outstretched glove. On 37 minutes Ronaldo was heavily involved as the Portuguese went 3-0 up. His close-range header was saved by Forde but Almeida was quickest to the rebound to net his second of the match.


An experimental Irish side showed greater appetite for the fight in the second half and scored the best goal of the night, as a quick free kick caught Portugal napping, setting James McClean free in the box. He still had plenty to do, but did it brilliantly, slaloming towards goal before unleashing a shot that gave keeper Rui Patricio no chance. Portugal put gloss on the scoreline in the closing stages as Nani, a substitute, set up Vieirinha to thrash home and then teed up Coentrao for number five.


Nani, who impressed in his cameo, said it was "great" to have Ronaldo back. "I think he showed he's good, he's well, and I think he showed he will be 100 per cent," said the Manchester United winger. "We are in a tough group but when you are in the World Cup you know you have to challenge the best teams. We are ready for that and we are confident."

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